Product Profile: Native Instruments Kontrol S-Series MK3

Native Instruments just released the Kontrol S-Series MK3 MIDI Controller, an all-new upgrade to their Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2 MIDI controllers. Now rebranded as the Kontrol S-Series, the Kontrol S-Series MK3 MIDI controllers are designed around a one-piece unibody design and are available in 49, 61 and 88 key configurations. Other than the 88 Key controllers hammer-action weighted keys, as opposed to the semi-weighted action keybed as will be found in the 49 and 61 variants, the specs on all three Kontrol S-Series MK3 Keyboards are identical. All three keyboards have user configurable velocity and after-touch capability. 

The Kontrol S-Series MK3 now has a completely redesigned front panel. Whereas there were two screens on the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2, the screen on the Kontrol S-Series MK3 is a single screen and features a completely redesigned screen layout. The brand new 9-inch screen on the Kontrol S-Series MK3 is significantly larger than was found on the Native Instruments MK2 S-Series controllers. The new screen of the S-Series MK3 has an overall larger viewing area and is made of high-resolution glass. The screen is clear, vibrant, exceptionally detailed, and provides for a highly enjoyable and immersive user experience. The eight endless encoder knobs are touch capacitive and provide instant haptic feedback. The eight knobs are continuous rotary encoders and groupable by function to help fine tune your browsing experience. On the Kontrol S-Series MK3, you get four pedal inputs vs two on the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2.

All parameters on the Kontrol S-Series MK3 are now accessible via direct integration with Kontakt 7, which means that individual or multiple instances of Kontakt can be open on any track without having to be opened in Komplete Kontrol, as was the case with the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2. 

Under the hood, the upgraded computer driving the S-Series MK3 is much more powerful than was found on the Kontrol S-Series MK2. Preset browsing on S-Series MK3 is virtually instantaneous, and in most instances loading even large samples available for any installed NKS products takes only a few seconds. Browsing through your available NKS supported libraries (plug-ins) you can browse real-time between banks, key types, sub types, characters and more at “think speed,” all of which makes for an enjoyable and immersive user experience. All available browsing controls are now accessible on the front page of the display, which allows the Kontrol S-Series to provide fast real-time editing and instantaneous user feedback. Another benefit of the on-board computer (in addition to quick and snappy preset browsing) is that it allows for more standalone functionality, such as on-board Play Assist, which is currently under development and will be released soon.

Designed in collaboration with Fatar, all three versions of the Kontrol S-Series MK3 now feature polyphonic aftertouch—mono or polyphonic aftertouch is available and is fully user configurable. Polyphonic aftertouch allows you, for example, to hold a key and trigger different sounds and parameters simultaneously. 

Adding and layering effects, creating Multi’s on the Kontrol S-Series MK3 is easy. As was the case with the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2, VST and non NKS plug-ins are available, but may be missing some browsing parameters. You can map the parameters yourself and then save it as a preset, as was the case on the S-Series MK2 Controllers. 

In DAW mode, all basic transport controls are available as well as mute, solo, loop metronome on off, tap tempo, undo, and redo functions. The metering in DAW mode on the Kontrol S-Series MK3 is full color, highly accurate and is the best metering display I have ever seen or worked with on any MIDI keyboard controller. 

Unlike the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2 which was powered by USB-2, the Kontrol S-Series MK3 connects to your computer via USB-C. There are two USB-C ports available. If your computer doesn’t have a USB-C port, or can’t provide enough power from the port, you will need to use an external USB-C power supply. Because of the increased processing power, the Kontrol S-Series MK3 has much more advanced browsing capability than the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2.

Purchasing a Native Instrument S Series MK3 gets you access to Komplete 14 Select, which includes synths, drums, percussion, studio-grade effects, and a wide range of customizable sounds. Stradivari Cello, Hypha, Guitar Rig LE, are included, as well as IZotope Elements Suite, and Ableton Live Lite. Literally hundreds of libraries are available from Native Instruments and third-party developers. 

So, if you’re the current owner of a Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2 controller, is it worth the cost to upgrade to a Kontrol S-Series MK3?  If the new screen, NKS2 compatibility, and polyphonic aftertouch is important to you, upgrading may be well worth it. On the other hand, direct integration with Native Instruments Machine hardware controller on the Kontrol S-Series MK3 is gone, as well as the dedicated mute, solo buttons and track select buttons found on the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2. All these functions are accessible in DAW Mode, albeit with a bit more menu diving and button pushing. The screen on the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2, while not as vibrant or large as the screen on the S-Series MK3, is still perfectly serviceable. 

Looking ahead, Native Instruments NKS2 will, I’m sure, get more sophisticated and capable over time, and the Kontrol S-Series MK3 is designed to take full advantage of the NKS2 development platform. The Kontrol S-Series MK3 also supports MIDI 2.0. Bottom line, if you’re looking to future proof your investment, buying a Kontrol S-Series MK3 keyboard is likely worth the acquisition cost.  

At launch, the Kontrol S-Series supports most major DAW’s, including Ableton Live, Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, Logic Pro, and Studio One. Integration with FL Studio is coming soon, and Pro Tools support is coming in late 2023. Using the current software and firmware, I found using ProTools (my main DAW) that most transport and browsing functions work correctly, albeit with some functions missing. (That, from my experience, was also the case on the Komplete Kontrol S-Series MK2.) 

It took me a while to fully get my head around how capable a MIDI controller the new Kontrol S-Series MK3 controller really is. Bottom line, the Native Instruments Kontrol S-Series MK3 keyboards are as close as any MIDI Keyboard Controller has gotten to integrating full workstation capability into what is arguably one of the most advanced MIDI controllers ever created. An ambitious technical achievement by any measure, the Native Instruments Kontrol S-Series MK3 is certainly one of the most important product releases of 2023 and will likely set the bar for what a MIDI Keyboard Controller is capable of for some time to come. 

Prices for the Native Instruments Kontrol S-Series MK3 controllers are MAP $749 for the Kontrol S49, MAP $849 for the Kontrol S61 and MAP $1299 for the Kontrol S88. 

Find out more at native-instruments.com/en